December 27, 2010

Historic START Treaty Wins Overwhelming Senate Vote, 71-26

Chalk this one up along with the rest of President Obama’s achievements – and more proof that he’s definitely earned the Nobel Peace Prize that he has (note people can’t complain too much about his global anti-proliferation goals anymore.) The START treaty was part of America’s “rebooted” relationship with Russia, which had been strained under President Bush for a number of reasons – his own ignorance and warmongering agenda notwithstanding.

That said, there were worries that congressional Republicans would oppose any advances in the peace process and in the push for the world’s major powers to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and sure enough a bunch of them voted against it partially because of old Cold War beliefs, and partially because of a desire to oppose any achievement of President Obama’s, and partially because of their own personal political agendas.

Even so, the START treaty sailed through the House and the Senate thankfully, and will make the world a safer place overall. When I heard the news, the first thing I wondered was whether or not the Doomsday Clock would be turned back a minute; it seems like this would be a great occasion to do so.

[ Historic START Treaty Wins Overwhelming Senate Vote, 71-26 ]
Source: TruthOut

September 20, 2010

The Obama Achievements Center

I know I ranted about this at length in my post, That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking! but I wanted to drive it home a little more because memories fade so quickly and people forget exactly how far America has come in the few short months since Obama took office, and how quickly this American ship has managed to right itself and set a course for prosperity. Are we there yet? No. Is Obama perfect? Not at all – but has he accomplished a lot? Is he trying? Is he a hell of a lot better than who we had before – both in the White House and his cronies in Congress? Absolutely on all counts.

That’s why I’m really thrilled to point out the existence of the Obama Achievements Center, a great resource for people who want quick ammo to rebut the claims of history-rewriting conservatives who think that Obama hasn’t done anything, or at least hasn’t done anything good, and are basking in this kind of false reality where America has become a worse place since he took office. Quite the contrary, to fact. Here’s what the site’s builders have to say:

This site is the preview version of our new Obama Achievements Center. It’s a work in progress and a labor of love — for our country.
We’re building a crowd-sourced compilation of the achievements of the Obama administration, with documentation for each achievement linked to it. It
In today’s frenzied media zones, far too much time has been spent putting the spotlight on complaints while significant achievements are either ignored, not reported, or minimized.

The Achievements

Determined to change the media narrative to finally include the good works of this administration, a group of Twitter users got together under Shoq’s leadership and compiled a list of the achievements and promises of the Obama administration, with documented links to every item. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as this President accumulates more successes and lasting reforms.
Defining what an achievement is in any administration, is itself an interesting issue. We decided that we would define it broadly to include executive orders,important legislation, and significant initiatives or outcomes of any kind, both foreign and domestic. We worked hard to screen out minor or subjective items whenever we had agreement on them. As anyone can see from this very impressive list, they weren’t needed.

Isn’t it beautiful? This is worth a bookmark, people, and includes everything I mentioned in my last post and then some. Best of all, it’s organized by topic and category, so if you have a favorite cause of topic, you can zoom right to it.

[ The Obama Achievements Center ]

July 26, 2010

Fighting Wars Won’t Make You a Hero

My father, who proudly served in the military (partially so I would never have to) has said this to me before: that not everyone who dons a uniform is a hero, and not every hero wears a uniform. And that just because someone’s served in the armed forces doesn’t make them a hero or someone automatically worthy of praise and respect – respect has to be earned by anyone to anyone, and the clothes they wear or the life they’ve chosen shouldn’t automatically grant that to anyone.

Part of the issue here is the gradual turn of our armed services into a “hero class,” where the civilian population automatically and immediately bows to any opinion offered by anyone who’s served in the military for any period of time for any reason. And while there is much to respect about someone who’s chosen to serve our country and potentially – at a moment’s call – put their lives on the line for our freedoms and liberties, that doesn’t automatically make them a “hero.”

William Astore describes this incredibly well, while balancing the appropriate respect and appreciation for the men and women of our military and the life that they choose to lead in service of their countrymen, with the immediate refutation of the “I was a soldier so I know how the world works and how things should be” mentality that I for one hear incredibly often from people on the political right.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone claim to have served during wartime as a way to not have to use facts or reality to base their political beliefs; someone who uses the fact that they either are in the service or were in the service as a way to automatically shut down a political debate.

I’ve said as much to people before: that being a solider doesn’t make you any more or less qualified to be a politician or even command a conflict any more than being a police officer makes you qualified to be a state governor or even be the police chief. Sure you have insight into one particular area of importance, but – as my dad would say – being a infantryman on the ground is admirable, but it doesn’t necessarily make you qualified to be a general.

It doesn’t preclude you from it, but it doesn’t automatically make you one – so saying “I know how the war should be fought/I know how all wars should be fought/I know whether war is right or wrong because I was in XXXX conflict” simply isn’t rational, or even remotely true, unless by saying “I was in XXXX conflict” you’re really saying “I was in command.”

Astore goes on though, pointing out that there’s more to the term “hero” than our culture has diluted it to be these days:

In local post offices, as well as on local city streets here in central Pennsylvania, I see many reminders that our troops are “hometown heroes.” Official military photos of these young enlistees catch my eye, a few smiling, most looking into the camera with faces of grim resolve tinged with pride at having completed basic training. Once upon a time, as the military dean of students at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, I looked into such faces in the flesh, congratulating young service members for their effort and spirit.

I was proud of them then; I still am. But here’s a fact I suspect our troops might be among the first to embrace: the act of joining the military does not make you a hero, nor does the act of serving in combat. Whether in the military or in civilian life, heroes are rare — indeed, all-too-rare. Heck, that’s the reason we celebrate them. They’re the very best of us, which means they can’t be all of us.

Still, even if elevating our troops to hero status has become something of a national mania, is there really any harm done? What’s wrong with praising our troops to the rafters? What’s wrong with adding them to our pantheon of heroes?

The short answer is: There’s a good deal wrong, and a good deal of harm done, not so much to them as to us.

To wit:

*By making our military a league of heroes, we ensure that the brutalizing aspects and effects of war will be played down. In celebrating isolated heroic feats, we often forget that war is guaranteed to degrade humanity. “War,” as writer and cultural historian Louis Menand noted, “is specially terrible not because it destroys human beings, who can be destroyed in plenty of other ways, but because it turns human beings into destroyers.”

When we create a legion of heroes in our minds, we blind ourselves to evidence of their destructive, sometimes atrocious, behavior. Heroes, after all, don’t commit atrocities. They don’t, for instance, dig bullets out of pregnant women’s bodies in an attempt to cover up deadly mistakes. They don’t fire on a good Samaritan and his two children as he attempts to aid a grievously wounded civilian. Such atrocities and murderous blunders, so common to war’s brutal chaos, produce cognitive dissonance in the minds of many Americans who simply can’t imagine their “heroes” killing innocents. How much easier it is to see the acts of violence of our troops as necessary, admirable, even noble.

*By making our military generically heroic, we act to prolong our wars.

I couldn’t put it better myself.

[ Fighting Wars Won’t Make You a Hero ]
Source: (via AlterNet)

July 12, 2010

Jan Brewer’s (and John McCain’s) Immigration Lies Destroyed

This is why I’m absolutely thrilled that Eric Holder is ready to bring the legal smackdown to Arizona’s now-legalized racism and “papers, please” regime – and why I’m equally thrilled that he’s already said that additional legal challenges on additional grounds may be forthcoming against Arizona and its horrific so-called “immigration” law, which really amounts to an “anti-Latino” law.

The problem is that the political right, and people like Arizona governor Jan Brewer (and her patrons, people like John McCain, failed Presidential candidate) insist on believing a series of lies and half-truths about immigration and migration that have been disproven over and over again. Sadly, the right has never needed proof or evidence to back up their beliefs; they’re perfectly happy subsisting on privilege, lies, mistrust, and hatred.

So in an amazing piece at Alternet, Joshua Holland channels Dana Milbank, who both tear some of it apart in glorious fashion:

Dana Milbank can be annoying at times, but his column today is well worth a read.

A sample …

Jan Brewer has lost her head.

The Arizona governor, seemingly determined to repel every last tourist dollar from her pariah state, has sounded a new alarm about border violence. “Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded,” she announced on local television.

Ay, caramba! Those dark-skinned foreigners are now severing the heads of fair-haired Americans? Maybe they’re also scalping them or shrinking them or putting them on a spike.

But those in fear of losing parts north of the neckline can relax. There’s not a follicle of evidence to support Brewer’s claim.

The Arizona Guardian Web site checked with medical examiners in Arizona’s border counties and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer’s press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply.

Brewer’s mindlessness about headlessness is just one of the immigration falsehoods being spread by Arizona politicians. Border violence on the rise? Phoenix becoming the world’s No. 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong.

This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they’ve had to step in because federal officials aren’t doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.

Holland and Milbank also refute the so-called criminal concern around immigration – noting that immigration was much higher when the economy was doing better in the late 90s, and yet crime was at its lowest point in decades. Between this and the whining “they’re taking our jobs” privilege argument and the “they’re sucking up our school money/medical services/other social services” privilege argument, both of which have been proven hilariously false (especially considering this is a community that works and pays taxes on benefits they’re not eligable for in numbers that can’t be counter) it’s remarkable that these people are allowed to hold public office while lying through their teeth the way they do.

Still, what did I say about the political right? They’ve never really needed truth or facts in the past – there’s no reason to expect them to start now.

[ Jan Brewer’s (and John McCain’s) Immigration Lies Destroyed ]
Source: AlterNet

June 28, 2010

Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means

One of the things that still appalls me – although not surprises me – is the fact that so often some of the people we trust with our very lives; like first responders and 911 operators, are simply not interested in doing their jobs and have no passion around them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this about everyone, and I’m not saying it’s even a majority, but I am saying that these kinds of cases happen entirely too often for them to not be systematic problems, and I am saying that these kinds of cases can only come up so frequently before they really can be considered “common” and “the norm.”

As much as authorities when confronted with the behavior of their staff will try to downplay them and claim that the responsible parties have been dealt with and that these are “isolated incidents,” they truly are not by any means, and they’re truly troubling. These particular cases are specifically distressing because they deal with something that really is a life or death issue where police are desperately needed and their response can mean the difference between life or death: domestic violence.

I even hate the term, because it sounds almost so pedestrian these days, but domestic violence, spousal abuse, partner abuse, all of these situations deserve the same if not more urgency on behalf of first responders than a burglary call while the offender is still in the home, or a kidnapping or robbery in progress. How the 911 operator responds and how quickly they respond can be the difference between someone living or dying that day.

Here’s what’s so horrific, thanks to Tiger Beatdown:

Marie Celeste Arraras is a lady. She is a lady that some of you–including, shamefully, your humble correspondent who really needs to expand her horizons once again–may not have heard about. But if you watch Telemundo, you probably have seen her on “Al Rojo Vivo,” her daily news broadcast, or her work as a contributor for the “Today” show. She’s pretty, talented, and good at her job — she’s been called the “Katie Couric of Spanish television.”

She’s also a lady. I believe I mentioned that. Because it turns out to be pretty important.

On May 28, Arraras called Miami 911, telling the dispatcher to send the cops right away because her boyfriend had hit her and was trying to choke her. The police did eventually come to the house, arrested her boyfriend, and observed that she had a swollen lips and marks on her arms.

All this you can read in this story from the Sunday New York Daily News, like I did. What I find interesting is that in the online version, they left out the transcript of the call. Which makes for some…what’s that word we use? Interesting? Infuriating? Depressingly typical?

Yeah, that one.

Here, in living Minou Transcription, is the 911 call:

Operator: Miami Dade, where is your emergency?

Arraras: Please send the police to [redacted] right now. Somebody is about to kill me. Please.

Operator: What are they doing?

Arraras: Choking me. Please hurry.

Operator: They are choking you?

Arraras: Please.

Operator: Ma’am, you are on the phone; they are not choking you. What did they do?

Arraras: They just hit me and tried to choke me. Please.

Operator: Who did that to you?

Arraras: Somebody that lives with me.

Operator: Okay then, who is that somebody? Let’s not be silly. Ma’am, answer my question.

Arraras: I have three kids here.

Operator: And who is this someone that tried to kill you?

Arraras: It’s somebody that I’m dating, that lives here…please, could you send somebody right away?

Operator: Okay, ma’am. Hello. Instead of just saying hurry up, why don’t you answer the question?

Arraras: Listen to me, I have to go because he’s trying to get back in. Could you please…

Operator: So the person is outside?

Arraras: Outside, but not for long.

Operator: So, he lives there with you?

Arraras: Are you sending somebody right now?

Operator: I said, yes, if you would have listened instead of just talking. Okay.

I’ll say two things right away, because I have to, because if you’re going to be outraged, on the Internet, while female, you have to say things to cover your ass before the nitpickers and MRAs and rape apologists descend upon you. First, I don’t know if that’s the full transcript. I tried to dig it up via diligent net browsing, but the best I could find was the print edition of the News. There are a few ellipses in the transcription which could be gaps in the transcript, or capturing pauses in Arraras’ speech. Second, I haven’t heard an audio of the conversation, so I can’t speak to the tone of either Arraras or the operator.

Within those narrow dimensions, I’m still pretty appalled.

We are told, all of us, lady and dude and every other fantastic gender under the sun, that you call 911 when there’s an emergency. We are especially told that if we are people of the lady persuasion–not only because we are assumed to be incapable of dealing with anything messy and violent (except, you know, housework and rape), but because if, Cthulu forbid it, something happens to us, and we didn’t call, well then it’s clearly all our fault.

I tend to have a pretty good nose for tone, and even if the things that the operator is saying are in the most innocent and benign tone, they would be unacceptable. And frankly, something tells me that they’re not being said in the most innocent and benign tone. A 911 operator taking the approach of a disturbed call center staffer (trust me, I know how that is) who’s annoyed enough to be bothered to answer the phone, much less do actual work is by definition unacceptable, and I sincerely hope that this person isn’t just out of a job, but finds it incredibly difficult to work in their field in the future.

This is part of the problem frankly – as with any profession or job, when someone leaves one job after having done it for a long time, even if they did it poorly and they were dismissed, they frequently go to another place that doesn’t bother to check up on them and they wind up doing the same job again – often just as poorly and often just as dangerously. It makes me wish there background checks and permanent records for people who want to be 911 operators, but they’re already in short enough supply that anyone can get the role…as we can see here.

Now we can be horrified as much as we want because this particular woman has some celebrity status, but this makes me terrified for every woman who doesn’t and doesn’t have the means to have her story told in this way. And like I said above, I can only read stories like this so many times before it starts to look awfully common.

C.L. Minou, author of the post, goes on to explain that there are some groups that simply don’t call 911 in case of emergency, and she’s absolutely right. Queer folk, most minorities and especially Latinos (for fear of our “papers please” culture) have come to understand that the police and authorities are very frequently not their friends and have no interest in coming to their rescue in times of crisis. This is a mindset I can certainly corroborate in my own experiences.

My own calls to 911 over the years for various reasons go largely like this, with the operator more interested in getting off of the phone (partially likely because their lines are ringing off the hook, understandable) than there’s any interest in actually helping, lending an empathetic voice, and making sure I’m aware help is on the way. My experiences with police later in life (although earlier in life was different) go to prove the same point – officers less interested in hearing the full story and actually helping a victim and more interested in listening long enough to convince you to let them get back in the cruiser and drive away.

It’s a shame, because I know there are 911 operators and police officers out there doing amazing work and really making an impact and a difference in the lives of the people they touch. I honestly wish I could take whatever secret sauce that makes them successful and spread it around their colleagues so they don’t feel alone and don’t get jaded – even often times in the face of a community that already hates them and sees them on the other side of the line from them.

Regardless, for example, there’s no excuse for this, taken from the same piece:

Now look. I get that this is a horrible job, that most 911 dispatchers’ workday probably consists of prank calls, folks calling without a real emergency, and depressingly repetitive crimes all sandwiched around a few cases of pure brutal horror. So I’m not saying that 911 is sexist or that you shouldn’t call 911 if you’re in trouble. You should. But at the same time, I’m hardly doing much more than raising the MacKinnon Memorial Prize for Repetitive Observation by pointing out that all too often people in authority don’t take domestic violence seriously.

Like, for example, this story:

As we first revealed, when Sheila Jones needed help, help never came.

That despite repeated calls to Metro Nashville’s 911 over a three-hour stretch about an ex-boyfriend who’d assaulted her and was threatening to come back.

Sheila to 911:”They ain’t sent nobody. I just don’t understand. Is it ’cause I’m black? Is it ’cause of the neighborhood. What is it?”

And our investigation discovered, this is how one of the last calls ended:

Sheila: “I’m scared to even leave out my f***ing house.”
911: “OK, ma’am, I updated the call. We’ll get somebody there as soon as possible.”
Sheila: [Hangs up.]
911: “I really just don’t give a s**t what happens to you.”

You know what that voice is? That’s the voice of every MRA [ed. note: MRA = Men’s Rights Activist] troll who gets smug with you online about “if it was such a big deal, why didn’t you call the police?” That’s the voice of anyone who makes the victim in a battering case the one to hang her head in embarrassment. That’s the voice of everything that keeps a woman for asking for help, that’s the smug assurance that it just doesn’t matter.

That, ladies and assorted dudes of good cheer, is the voice of patriarchy as sure as if it was broadcasting on Radio Free Patriarchy.

This terrifies me, because frankly, the authorities should be the bastions of trust and protection that we’re taught they are since childhood. When I call 911, I should know the person on the other end, while I certainly know I’m not their only call, should make me feel like I’m the only one in the world – because that’s likely how I feel right now. Every other public or customer-facing job in the world would never settle for less; there’s no reason to expect some of our most crucial public services to be any different at all. It’s a systematic problem and it demands a systematic solution.

[ Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means ]
Source: Tiger Beatdown

April 19, 2010

Obama’s Nuclear Summit: Invisible for Conservatives?

True to nature, whenever there’s good news to be had or real leadership shown by the Obama Administration, the conservative reaction is to say nothing if at all possible, especially when they know that being negative will just further marginalize them from the rest of American society.

For example, when the President and the Secretary of State both collectively stand behind podiums in front of world leaders and explain that the threat of a Cold War-style annihilation is lower than it’s ever been but the threat of a rogue nuclear attack by a terrorist or non-state organization is higher than ever, conservatives can’t dispute that because to do so would make them look not only crazy, but contradictory to their own policies less than 2 years ago. (Not that they’re any stranger to self-contradiction – these are the same people who yelled down progressives for “not respecting the office of the President even if you don’t respect the person in it” and less than 2 years later are summarily publishing racist cartoons and training for the woods for the “next Civil War.”) At the same time, only the fringiest of fringe conservatives (and they’ve definitely stood up) can bash the President’s vision of a world where the threat of nuclear weapons doesn’t loom large over the populous of every nation around the globe.

So what do the conservatives do when they can’t acknowledge something good is happening? They just ignore it, of course:

On Monday and Tuesday, President Obama convened a historic gathering in Washington to deal with the most urgent threat facing the globe: nuclear terrorism. Never before have so many world leaders gathered to discuss together how to thwart one of the greatest nightmares imaginable; 47 nations were represented. Though no sweeping treaties or agreements were reached, Obama did succeed on two important fronts. He placed the issue of controlling and securing nuclear material that could be used by terrorists (including al-Qaeda and its allies) at the top of the global to-do list. And he encouraged nations to take their own individual steps. Chile gave up its entire stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU), the material that terrorists need to produce a weapon. Ukraine said it would eliminate its HEU stockpile, as did Mexico. Canada agreed to do the same with much of its HEU. (Reducing and controlling HEU stockpiles is the key to preventing nuclear terrorism.) China, Japan, India, Argentina, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Italy each announced nuclear security initiatives.

There’s still much that the nations of the world, including the United States, must do to prevent HEU from slipping into the hands of terrorists. (It only takes a lump the size of a grapefruit to make a bomb, and the bomb-building part isn’t so tough. What’s hard is getting the HEU.) But with this summit, Obama did move the world in a safer direction. He nudged it toward policies that could lessen the odds that one or more of our cities are incinerated by a nuclear weapon cobbled together by a band of evildoers. Everyone — even people who believe Obama is a Kenyan-born secret Muslim with a covert plan for imposing socialism on the United States — should be grateful for that, right?

Maybe not. After Obama’s summit was done, I went looking to see how prominent conservatives and Republicans were reacting to it on the Twittersphere. I found a lot of silence. Newt Gingrich tweeted on Tuesday about a meeting where he would “outline 2010 and 2012 big choice themes 2+2 equals 4 is key concept.” (Don’t ask me what that means.) But not a peep about the summit. Sarah Palin, ditto. Same for Karl Rove. These folks are all active Twitterers, ever ready to share their opinions and thoughts in 140 characters or less. But none saw fit to do so regarding the nuclear security summit.

To that list, you can add other conservative tweeters: John McCain, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and John Boehner.

You bet that if this had happened under the Bush Administration (not that Mad King George would ever have been able to comprehend the issue of nuclear weapons, much less have the will to bring so many world leaders together to discuss it, much less be respected enough by any of those leaders for them to actually attend) they’d be shouting from the rooftops about how important and historic the moment was and how it was a turning point in world history – and, if it had happened under their watch, they’d all be right.

But it was all of those things – it was historic, it was turning point, and it was the first time a lot of those leaders had convened in the same place to discuss the same issues and all agree that it was important. And the simple fact that everyone – including the mainstream media that these conservative wingnuts love to hate so much – covered it, does more to destroy their credibility in some ways than anything they possibly could say about any other issue. Sorry guys, you don’t get to pick and choose the news, and you don’t get to pick and choose what’s important and what’s historic.

[ Obama’s Nuclear Summit: Invisible for Conservatives? ]
Source: Politics Daily

April 12, 2010

Earning His Nobel Prize

Perhaps one of the proudest moments of President Obama’s young presidency is last week’s announcement that he’s signed a historic nuclear disarmament treaty with President Medvedev of Russia, agreeing that both countries will draw down their nuclear weapons by about a third.

It’s true that there’s a long way to go, but this is a remarkable first step, and a massive break from the horribly tense relationship that the US and Russia suffered during the Bush Administration. Finally, we have a President who understands that keeping a massive nuclear arsenal isn’t key to our national security and is actually counterproductive to our national interests. And in fact, while the threat of a nuclear strike is higher than it’s ever been (terrorists or rogue states getting their hands on nuclear material or a small nuclear bomb) a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons doesn’t serve as a deterrent from those who are most likely to use them these days.

The best part of all of this though is that as soon as the announcement was made that President Obama had unveiled and signed the treaty, the first thing I thought was that he’s certainly earned that Nobel Peace Prize:

At last, a believable sighting of that peace president many of us thought we had elected. Give Barack Obama credit, big time, for the startling progress he has made in tempering the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review Report for the first time prohibits “first use” of nuclear weapons against nations complying with the nonproliferation treaty. It also pledges a halt to U.S. efforts to modernize such weapons, as had been proposed by then-President George W. Bush in his call for new nuclear “bunker busters.”

Whereas his predecessor succeeded only in eliminating the nonexistent Iraqi nukes, this president has forged a treaty with the Russians that will reduce the world’s supply of the devil’s weapons by one-third. But it was essential to follow that up with a clear departure from the always-insane policy that the U.S. has a right to develop and use such weapons as conventional tools of war.

Robert Scheer, writing for TruthDig, has some much stronger words later in the piece to describe how he feels about global nuclear weapons, but I think that tidbit is the most poignant (which makes sense why he opened with it) and telling about exactly the size of the accomplishment President Obama has made.

Now of course the treaty has to be ratified in the Senate, and Republicans are already frothing at the mouth – not because this is a bad decision (as much as they’d like you to believe that it is) but because they can’t stand to see President Obama do well at anything.

Regardless of the fact, it’s an amazing achievement, and I’m more than proud of our President for making the world a safer place, little by little. I wonder if they’ll move the midnight clock back a little bit now.

[ Earning His Nobel Prize ]
Source: TruthDig

January 11, 2010

The Airport Scanner Scam

Ah yes, the millimeter-wave scanner: also known as the wang scanner, or the full-body airport scanner that gives security professionals the ability to look directly through your clothing to make sure you’re not carrying anything dangerous that may not set off a metal detector on your person…all without having to pat you down!

Now this might sound great, don’t get me wrong, but essentially walking through a millimeter-wave scanner is the equivalent of stripping down completely naked in front of a TSA agent and handing them your clothes. The scanner supposedly doesn’t record data, and it supposedly is only used in exceptional situations, but the machine still exists and it still causes a significant security concern, both in the fact that it could be beneficial and it’s also a breach of personal privacy unlike any we’ve seen before.

That all being said though, there’s something more going on under the surface here. Someone mentioned on Twitter a while ago that there doesn’t seem to be any real motivation or momentum behind easing things – especially air travel – back to a pre 9/11 state. Part of that may have to do with the fact that clearly there are still security threats against airlines in the United States, but at the same time, anti-terror is big business these days, and I have no doubt in my mind that those businesses would cry foul if the national terror alert level dropped substantially.

So who wins here? James Ridgeway, writing for Mother Jones, has some ideas:

Since the alternative is being groped by airport screeners, the scanners might sound pretty good. The Transportation Security Administration has claimed that the images “are friendly enough to post in a preschool,” though the pictures themselves tell another story, and numerous organizations have opposed them as a gross invasion of privacy. Beyond privacy issues, however, are questions about whether these machines really work—and about who stands to benefit most from their use.

As I documented in my book The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, airport security has always been compromised by corporate interests.When it comes to high-tech screening methods, the TSA has a dismal record of enriching private corporations with failed technologies, and there are signs that the latest miracle device may just bring more of the same.

Known by their opponents as “digital strip search” machines, the full-body scanners use one of two technologies—millimeter wave sensors or backscatter x-rays—to see through clothing, producing ghostly images of naked passengers. Yet critics say that these, too, are highly fallible, and are incapable of revealing explosives hidden in body cavities—an age-old method for smuggling contraband. If that’s the case, a terrorist could hide the entire bomb works within his or her body, and breeze through the virtual strip search undetected. Yesterday, the London Independent reported on “authoritative claims that officials at the [UK] Department for Transport and the Home Office have already tested the scanners and were not persuaded that they would work comprehensively against terrorist threats to aviation.” A British defense-research firm reportedly found the machines unreliable in detecting “low-density” materials like plastics, chemicals, and liquids—precisely what the underwear bomber had stuffed in his briefs.

Yet the rush toward full-body scans already seems unstoppable. They were mandated today as part of the “enhanced” screening for travelers from selected countries, and hundreds of the machines are already on order, at a cost of about $150,000 apiece. Within days of the bombing attempt, Reuters was reporting that the “greater U.S. government shift toward using the high-tech devices could create a boom for makers of security imaging products, and it has already created a speculative spike in share prices in some companies.”

Which brings us to the money shot. The body scanner is sure to get a go-ahead because of the illustrious personages hawking them. Chief among them is former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, who now heads the Chertoff Group, which represents one of the leading manufacturers of whole-body-imaging machines, Rapiscan Systems. For days after the attack, Chertoff made the rounds on the media promoting the scanners, calling the bombing attempt “a very vivid lesson in the value of that machinery”—all without disclosing his relationship to Rapiscan.

Now we’re on to something. As soon as the attack took place, the companies behind these machines and their distributors and PR flacks took to the streets, realizing they had been essentially handed a golden egg if they could figure out how to use the opportunity well.

While the quote above singles out Chertoff – who clearly should have disclosed his conflict of interest when he was making the Sunday morning circuit – he’s by far the only politician with connections to security firms selling this technology and their lobbies, and Ridgeway has a better list pulled from the Washington Examiner.

[ The Airport Scanner Scam ]
Source: Mother Jones

January 4, 2010

Top Republican Myths About the Crotch Bomber Affair

It’s funny – I actually haven’t heard a lot of these, but that’s likely because they’re circulating around the echo chamber of the right-wing blogosphere and/or Fox News. I don’t think any rational person holds any of these beliefs seriously, although I think there are definitely enough irrational people out there that they need to be clearly debunked:

1. President Obama did not speak publicly swiftly enough. In fact, Bush was silent for 9 days after the shoe bomber attack in 2001.

2. Bush would have tried Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant. Well, he tried Richard Reid the shoe bomber in civilian courts.

3. Yemen is the issue. In fact, Yemen’s government is actively bombing al-Qaeda cells, and complains that the US never shared its info on Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab with Sanaa.

4. A US war on al-Qaeda in Yemen is next. This way of thinking is foolish. Yemen is not a cake walk, folks.

Col. Pat Lang, former Defense Intelligence Agrency head for the Middle East, is an old Yemen hand and delivers a blunt warning against the US getting militarily involved there.

I have been to Yemen twice, before and after unification, and have traveled outside Sanaa. I’ve spoken publicly in Arabic in front of big audiences and interacted with Zaidis, Salafis, Sufis. It is an extremely complicated society with multiple ecological zones. It is an arid, tribal (segmentary-lineage) system. Most of the scholars I know who work on Yemen have been kidnapped by tribes or thrown in jail by the government at least once. People are either Arab nationalists or Muslim ones. They have very little use for outsiders. If the US tried to establish a big presence there, they would make the Iraqi resistance look half-hearted and weak-kneed.

Juan Cole, writing for ReaderSupportedNews, notes that he’s heard all of these on television from a couple of lawmakers, including people like Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Sen. Joe Lieberman. Now frankly, I don’t expect much more from someone like Hoekstra, but Lieberman just continues to show his true colors day after day, doesn’t he? At this rate, I’m almost glad Kerry didn’t win so we didn’t have to have Lieberman as a Vice President.

[ Top Republican Myths About the Crotch Bomber Affair ]
Source: Reader Supported News

December 28, 2009

Right-Wingers Call For Racial Profiling

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by this – we’re at the point where it’s quickly going to become an issue if you’re “traveling while non-white” in America, but with the recent attempted terrorist plot on Christmas Day, I’m surprised that the wingnuts aren’t jumping up and down claiming that all African passengers should be specifically pulled aside and screened, or people from Nigeria specifically. Don’t get me wrong – I understand the frustration here on all sides, and I understand how exceptionally difficult it can be to screen and find people who, for example, have explosives sewn into their underwear, without strip-searching every individual as they pass through security (which is absolutely unacceptable, by the way).

But to call for a “separate line for anyone named Abdul” is both counterproductive and a pretty ignorant backlash that wouldn’t solve anything and only encourage the people who already hate us to target us more. Hatred breeds more hatred, and while happiness and understanding never stopped an airline hijacking, there are plenty of constructive ideas floating about to keep these kinds of terror threats off our mass transit systems.

Let’s start with the typical right-wing mouth-frothing that’s going on right now:

The right wing’s predictable policy prescription in the aftermath of any terror incident is to impose greater ethnic profiling of Muslims. For instance, following the Ft. Hood shooting, Sarah Palin said, “profile away.” After six imams were removed from a plane in Minnesota in 2006, Ann Coulter justified profiling Muslims by arguing that it’s just like “profiling the Klan.” That same year, after British authorities revealed a terrorist plot to blow up planes headed to the U.S., right-wing radio host Mike Gallagher said, “It’s time to have a Muslims check-point line” at airports.

They’re at it again. In the wake of the failed terrorist attempt aboard a Northwest airlines flight on Christmas Day, the right wing is renewing its pleas for more profiling of Muslims:

Radio host Mike Gallagher: “There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed.” (Note: Those are some of the most common names in the world.)

Rep. Peter King (R-NY): “100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslim, and that is our main enemy today. So why we should not be profiling people because of their religion?”

Terrorism pundit Steven Emerson: “Remember, there have been so many complaints about quote, profiling, by the quote, Islamic civil rights groups, that they stopped basically profiling. And that basically led to not putting this guy onto the terrorist watch list.”

It’s kind of surprising that these kinds of ideas are coming from people who are so quick to trot out the Nazi analogies when another issue (health care) is up for discussion, when they don’t realize (or choose to ignore the fact) that it’s this kind of religion-based profiling of a group percieved to be a threat to the State that led to concentration camps in Germany. As soon as we start targeting people entirely because of their religion without any evidence of a threat (and claiming their religion is the basis of their threat), regardless of what hoops we choose to make them jump through, we’ve not only violated some of the core American values that we hold dear (as in the freedom to worship) but we march back in the direction of autocracy – the same direction we were pushing and shoving ourselves against when Bush was in office.

Broad-based ethnic profiling is counterproductive for a host of reasons. It creates a false sense of security and causes law enforcement resources to be wasted in chasing the wrong targets. Terrorists come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. John Walker Lindh was white, while Richard Reid was Jamaican and British. As the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has reported:

Terrorism profiling is a crude substitute for behavior-based enforcement. It violates core American values, including the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. It also hinders anti-terrorism efforts because it alienates people and communities that are critical to the success of the anti-terrorism effort.

Non-specific profiling of certain religions or races amounts to a witch-hunt against a class of people, creating the perception among the larger society that those individuals containing certain suspect features (skin color, foreign-sounding names, foreign-language skills, etc) are to be feared.

Yesterday, two Middle Eastern men were pulled off a flight heading to Phoenix because passengers reported they were engaging in suspicious behavior. The men were speaking in a Middle Eastern language. And on a Detroit-bound flight yesterday, a Nigerian businessman was taken off an airplane because passengers became suspicious that he was lingering in the bathroom for too long. The FBI confirmed that the individual’s behavior was due to a legitimate illness.

We need to highlight these kinds of scenarios. I understand that this is very soon after an attempted attack, but we can’t start assuming that speaking Arabic on a plane makes you a threat, and we can’t assume that being African and having diarrhea on a plane makes you a threat either. If we’re getting to that point, we’ve got problems. I can only hope that this, like the same paranoia after other attempts, fades with a little time, and we manage to get a grasp on our collective sanity. After that, we can start thinking about real, proactive, and productive ways to screen people and minimize terror threats.

[ Right-Wingers Call For Racial Profiling: “There Should be a Separate Line [For] Anybody With the Name Abdul” ]
Source: Think Progress (via AlterNet)